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ABOUT File Specification v0.8.0


Purpose

An ABOUT file provides a simple way to document the provenance (origin and license) and other important or interesting information about a software component. An ABOUT file is a small text file stored in the codebase side-by-side with the software component file or archive that it documents. No modification of the documented software is needed.

The ABOUT format is plain text with field name/value pairs separated by a colon. It is easy to read and create by hand and is designed first for humans, rather than machines. The format is well-defined and structured just enough to make it easy to process with software as well. It contains enough information to fulfill key license requirements such as creating credits or attribution notices, collecting redistributable source code, or providing information about new versions of a software component.

Getting Started

A simple and valid ABOUT file named httpd.ABOUT may look like this:

      about_resource: httpd-2.4.3.tar.gz
      name: Apache HTTP Server
      version: 2.4.3

      home_url: http://httpd.apache.org

      download_url: http://archive.apache.org/dist/httpd/httpd-2.4.3.tar.gz
      
      license_text_file: httpd.LICENSE
      notice_file: httpd.NOTICE
      copyright: Copyright (c) 2012 The Apache Software Foundation.
      license_spdx: Apache-2.0
    

The meaning of this ABOUT file is:

Specification

An ABOUT file is an ASCII text file with lines of colon-separated "field name":"value" pairs. This format is loosely based on the Email header field format as specified in RFC5322/RFC822 at http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5322 . By reusing this specification, several available tools and libraries can parse and interpret ABOUT files. Note that while Unicode characters are not supported in an ABOUT file proper, external files can contain UTF-8 Unicode.

ABOUT file name

An ABOUT file name can use a limited set of characters and is suffixed with a ".ABOUT" extension using any combination of uppercase and lowercase characters.

A file name can contain only these US-ASCII characters:

  • digits from 0 to 9
  • uppercase and lowercase letters from A to Z
  • the "_" underscore, "-" dash and "." period signs.
  • The case of a file name is not significant. On case-sensitive file systems (such as on Linux), a tool must report an error if two ABOUT files stored in the same directory have the same lowercase file name. This is to ensure that ABOUT files can be used across file systems. The convention is to use a lowercase file name and an uppercase ABOUT extension.

    Lines of text

    An ABOUT file contains lines of US-ASCII text. Lines contain field names/values pairs. The standard line ending is the LF character. The line ending characters can be any LF, CR or CR/LF and tools must normalize line endings to LF when processing an ABOUT file. Empty lines and lines containing only white spaces that are not part of a field value continuation are ignored. Empty lines are commonly used to improve the readability of an ABOUT file.

    Field name

    A field name can contain only these US-ASCII characters:

  • digits from 0 to 9
  • uppercase and lowercase letters from A to Z
  • the "_" underscore sign.
  • Field names are not case sensitive. For example, "HOME_URL" and "Home_url" represent the same field name.

    A field name must start at the beginning of a new line. It can be followed by one or more spaces that must be ignored. These spaces are commonly used to improve the readability of an ABOUT file.

    Field value

    The field value is separated from the field name by a ":" colon. The ":" colon can be followed by one or more spaces that must be ignored. This also applies to trailing white spaces: they must be ignored.

    The field value is composed of one or more lines of plain US-ASCII printable text.

    When a field value contains more than one line of text, additional continuation lines must start with at least one space. In this case, the first space of an additional continuation line is ignored and should be removed from the field value by tools.

    In this example the value of the description field spans multiple lines:

    description: This is a long description for a
     software component that spans multiple lines with arbitrary line breaks.
         

    Fields are mandatory or optional

    As defined in this specification, a field can be mandatory or optional. Tools must report an error for missing mandatory fields.

    Extension and ignored fields

    An ignored field is a field with a name that is not defined in this specification. Custom extension fields are also supported and must be processed by tools as ignored fields unless a certain tool can process a certain extension field.

    Fields validation

    When processing an ABOUT file, tools must report a warning or error if a field is invalid. A field can be invalid for several reasons, such as invalid field name syntax or invalid content. Tools should report additional validation error details. The validation process should check that each field name is syntactically correct and that fields contain correct values according to its concise, common sense definition in this specification. For certain fields, additional and specific validations are relevant such as checksum verification, URL validation, path resolution and verification, and so forth. Tools should report a warning for ignored fields.

    Fields order and precedence

    The field order does not matter with the following exception: multiple occurrences of a field name are possible and must be interpreted such that only the last occurrence is considered as the value for this field name. Previous occurrences of the same field name must be treated as ignored fields.

    A tool processing an ABOUT file must issue a warning when a field name occurs more than once in an ABOUT file (as for any other ignored field).

    Field referencing a file

    The actual value of some fields may be contained in another file. This is useful for long texts or to reference a common text in multiple ABOUT files such as a common license text. In this case the field name is suffixed with "_file" and the field value must be a path pointing to the file that contains the actual value of the field. This path must be a POSIX path relative to the path of the ABOUT file. The file content must be UTF-8-encoded text. This is in contrast with field values contained directly in an ABOUT file that must be US-ASCII-encoded text and allows to support non-ASCII text content.

    When an ABOUT file contains both a field name and a _file-suffixed field for the same field name, both fields must be treated as multiple occurrences of the same field name. This must be interpreted such that only the last occurrence is considered as the value for this field name.

    For example, the full license text for a component is often stored in a separate file named COPYING:

          license_text_file: linux.COPYING
        

    In this example, the README file is stored in a doc directory, one directory above the ABOUT file directory, using a relative POSIC path:

          license_text_file: ../docs/ruby.README
        

    Field referencing a URL

    The value of a field may reference URLs such as a homepage or a download. In this case the field name is suffixed with "_url" and the field value must be a valid absolute URL starting with ftp://, http:// or https://. URLs are informational and the content they may reference is ignored. For example, a download URL is referenced this way:

          download_url: http://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v3.0/linux-3.4.20.tar.bz2
        

    Flag fields

    Flag fields have a "true" or "false" value. True, T, Yes or Y must be interpreted as "true" in any case combination. False, F, No or N must be interpreted as "false" in any case combination.

    Referencing the file or directory documented by an ABOUT file

    An ABOUT file documents one file or directory. The mandatory "about_resource" field points to the documented file or directory. The value of the "about" field can be a name stored in the same directory as the ABOUT file or a POSIX path relative to the path of the ABOUT file. POSIX paths use a "/" forward slash sign as path separators.

    A tool processing an ABOUT file must report an error if this field is missing.

    By convention, an ABOUT file is often stored in the same directory side-by-side to the file or directory that it documents, but this is not mandatory.

    For example, a file named django.ABOUT contains the following field to document the django-1.2.3.tar.gz archive stored in the same directory:

          about_resource: django-1.2.3.tar.gz
        

    In this example, the ABOUT file documents a whole sub-directory:

          about_resource: downloads/linux-kernel-2.6.23/
        

    In this example, the ABOUT file documents the current directory, using a "." period to reference it:

          about_resource: .
        

    Since all paths are interpreted relative to the ABOUT file location, this would also reference the current directory:

          about_resource: /
        

    Other Mandatory fields

    When a tool processes an ABOUT file, it must issue an error if these mandatory field are missing.

    Optional Information fields

    Optional Owner and Author fields

    Optional Licensing fields